Debates about weave have been ongoing for as long as I can remember.
Whether to wear your hair natural, vs. wearing a weave, has sparked many discussions (and arguments). But why?
How one wears their hair is a personal decision but this topic seems to consistently find itself at the center of hot debate.
Let’s explore why this subject can be so polarizing and reveal the real truth about natural vs. weave.
What is a weave?
This topic wouldn’t start off on the right note without first explaining what a weave actually is.
For those who may not know, a weave is a type of hair extension that is sewn or glued onto someone’s own hair.
Typically one’s own hair is braided down, usually in a cornrow-type style, and the weave hair is sewn onto the cornrowed braids.
The weave hair is attached to a “weft” and that weft is what is sewn onto the cornrowed hair.
Why Wear Weave?
People wear weaves for a variety of reasons:
- To increase the length and/or volume of their own hair
- To try a different texture
- To conceal hair loss or thinning hair
- To create styles that they are unable to do with their own hair
- To try new colors without damaging their own hair
There are probably many more, but these are some of the most common reasons.
A weave can be a smart choice if you want to try new styles and/or colors without the risk of damaging your hair.
When properly installed, and maintained, weaves can also help you retain the length of your natural hair through protective styling.
So, if they are so great, why has there been so much debate about them in the Black community? The answer is a complex one, with its roots deep in the history of racism and the imposed beauty “standard”.
Where Did Wearing Weave Come From?
Hair weave was invented by a woman named Christina Mae Jenkins in the 1940s. Prior to her sew-in method, women would clip the tracks into their own hair. Mrs. Jenkins, a Louisiana native who worked for a wig manufacturer, looked for ways the wigs could be more secure when worn.
Known back then as the “Hairweeve”, Christina patented her revolutionary idea in 1951 and travelled all over the world teaching her technique.
Popular hairstyles in the 1950s demanded voluminously high-sitting coifs. Hair was also long and classically flowing (think Bombshell look).
The “Poodle Cut”, “Bouffant” and “Thick Fringe” styles were all the rage, designed specifically for straighter and longer hair.
The European beauty standard dictated (as it still does today), that being desired and attractive equated to having straight and long, flowing hair.
In order to achieve those styles, Black women often had to add hair to their own. Black hair care, or a focus on wearing one’s natural hair, was essentially non-existent during that time.
It has been said that necessity is the mother of invention and, being “in-style” required adding hair to achieve the desired looks, giving birth to Mrs. Jenkins’ famous Hairweeve.
Has anything changed since the 1950s?
We would like to think that we’ve come a long way since the 1950s but, have we?
Google “beautiful hair” and you’ll be greeted by an endless sea of images with long, flowing straight, and loose-textured hairstyles. Not a coily coif to be seen.
The European beauty standard still dictates what is perceived as “beautiful” by mainstream media.
By nature, most people tend to be conformists, clinging to established behaviors and practices, and hairstyle choices are no exception.
To achieve the current popular and “sexy” looks of today, it’s no surprise why wigs and weaves are as popular among Black women now as they were for their great-grandmothers in the 1950s.
The debate of natural hair vs. weave turns saucy when the question behind intent is raised.
What Are The Real Reasons Black Women Wear Weave?
This is a loaded and contentious question for many. There are opinions on both sides and each have lists of reasons supporting their positions.
We’ve established that the influences of the European beauty standard has pervasively infiltrated the Black community for generations.
Black women have always been measured by these standards and they have created socio-psychological ripples that persist to this day.
The question has been raised regarding the widespread use (and acceptance) of hair weave among Black women.
Historically, Black women’s hair has been viewed negatively and the pressure to conform to the “mainstream” standards is ever-present.
In her 2018 thesis paper, “Why Is No One Getting A Weave Of An Afro: Examining Culture, Economy, And Domestic Human Hair Consumption By African American Women”, Brittany Young writes “Through processes of racism and exclusion, African American women have long been forced to conform to the dominate perceptions of beauty through various methods, but most frequently through the modification of their hair”
Slave women were required to keep their hair covered in public and the coils of Afro-textured hair were mocked and denigrated in print well into the 20th century.
In the workplace, the afro-textured hair of Black women was viewed as “unprofessional” and “unkempt”, further imposing that the hair “needed” to be straightened, or hidden from the view of the disapproving dominant society.
The ripple effects of these negative opinions encompass, not only societal pressures to conform, but also the influence of these notions in relationships and dating.
When straight, or curly hair textures are placed on pedestals as “good hair”, it isn’t surprising how coily textured hair could be viewed as less desirable.
To compete in a world where the message that your natural texture is “bad” or “undesirable”, altering the hair to look more like what is acceptable becomes an attractive option.
Each individual is different, and some choose to wear weave for reasons that are focused solely on style and personal preference, but to dismiss the other reasons, rooted in history and exclusion, would be irresponsible.
Learning Natural Hair Care
Unfortunately, many Black women (and girls) are not taught how to properly care for their hair to maximize growth and retain length.
It has only been in very recent years, that a focus on promoting healthy afro-textured hair was developed.
Where previous generations were encouraged to hide their natural coils, we now experience a movement that puts caring for our coily crowns in a necessary and positive light.
But for those who aren’t aware (or are intimidated) by wearing and caring for their natural hair, weaves still remain a go-to option.
As mentioned previously, weaves can actually contribute to hair length retention and health when used properly.
The issue becomes troublesome, however, when one becomes dependent on their use.
Weaves are expensive, costing up to thousands of dollars in some cases, and damage to natural hair is inevitable if the weave is left in too long or the hair underneath is neglected.
Couple that with the understanding that natural hair CAN grow long, it would be beneficial to consider investing in the proper care of one’s natural hair, to lessen the dependence on hair weaves.
Natural Hair Or Weave?
People wear weaves for a variety of reasons and the style one chooses to wear their hair is a personal one. We’ve come a long way since the days when our hair was mocked or forced to be hidden from view.
Advancements in understanding proper afro-textured hair care have done much to improve the collective relationships of Black women with their natural hair.
Wearing a weave can be a useful tool in your natural hair care toolkit but dependence on weave can be costly and an obstacle to healthy hair growth if not used correctly.
Do you wear weave, or are you a Naturalista? Continue the conversation below and tell us about your experience!
(Young, B.(2018). Why Is No One Getting A Weave Of An Afro: Examining Culture, Economy, And Domestic Human Hair Consumption By African American Women. (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from https://scholarcommons.sc.edu/etd/4968)